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Dog Spot – FCC train from Finsbury Park to Moorgate

Oh hiya pup lovers! It’s been bloody ages since I’ve posted a dog spot, hasn’t it? This is mainly because I am REALLY slow to get my phone out and take pictures of dogs, and by the time I have they’ve walked off. Bums.

But today I saw a really love chap on the train and had ample time to photograph him (still a crappy photo though…) as I was lucky enough to stand next to him.

He was very obedient, and was happily giving everyone a subtle and gentle sniff as they boarded and disembarked the train at various stops.

I’m not sure what bred he was, but suspect he is probably a mix. He looked like a collie, but had the dimensions of a sausage dog – intriguing and very cute!

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RECIPE – Buttermilk pancakes with caramelised apple, pecan and maple syrup sauce

At the moment, one of my favourite things to do at the weekend – after a long lie-in, of course – is make a lazy brunch. After rushing around in the morning every week day (early starts aren’t my talent in this life), it feels like a real treat to shuffle around the kitchen, rustling up something more decadent than bran flakes. I think it makes the perfect start to a weekend day.

In the run up to Christmas, my lazy weekends seemed to get jam-packed with weddings, present-buying missions and birthdays. Lazy brunches were out of the window in favour of manically trying to wrap presents while directing Andrew in where to put up pictures in our new flat. It was hectic and I felt strung out. I missed our lazy lie-ins and brunches.

As part of my aims for 2014, I’m trying to not let my schedule get so out of control. And this has meant I have been able to get back some time for brunchtime pottering. To celebrate I made buttermilk pancakes, which were so crazily light and fluffy I just had to share them with you. They are quite a lot of faff, but well worth it.

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Buttermilk pancakes with caramelised apple, pecan and maple syrup sauce

Serves 4 | 50 mins

Ingredients

For sauce

– 3 eating apples
– 25g butter
– 85g pecans, cut in half lengthways
– 175ml maple syrup

For pancakes

– 100g plain flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
– 1 tbsp golden caster sugar
– 2 large eggs, separated
– 284ml buttermilk (if you can’t find buttermilk, plain natural yogurt with a squeeze of lemon juice in will do)
– 25g butter, melted

How to make these chaps:

1. Peel, core and cut the apples into quarters. Now slice the quarters into four (that’s eighths, if you please).
2. Pop the butter in a large frying pan and heat until melted. Tip in your apple slices and fry them until they start going golden (or slightly black if you leave Andrew in charge). Don’t let them get to the stage where they get crumbly and broken down. You want them to hold their shape. Stir in the pecans and maple syrup and let it heat through and combine. Remove this frying pan from the direct heat, but keep the apple mixture warm (put foil over it, essentially).
3. Sieve the flour, baking powder and bicarb into a large bowl.
4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. They will look white and glossy, and when you lift the whisk out of the eggs they’ll retain a stiff peak in the surface.
5. In yet another bowl, mix the yolks, butter and buttermilk together. Then tip this into the bowl with the flour in and mix until combine.
6. Gently add the egg whites to the mixture, folding in slowly until it’s all combined and you have a nice airy batter. Go slow – you don’t want to knock out the air, this is what gives the pancakes their fluffiness.
7. Heat a large frying pan and melt some butter in the pan – just a bit. Then drop puddles of batter into the pan using a large spoon. Wait until the puddles loose their glossy look and bubbles start to form in the top, then get a spatula or whatevs and flip them over. This can be messy, but do NOT panic. They will taste the same (so long as you don’t burn them) and will look nicely homemade. Or that’s what I told myself.
8. Remove pancakes from pan after a minute or so after you’ve flipped them. Create a stack of them on a plate, then spoon over some of that apple mixture you made.

Adapted from BBC Good Food

 

 

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Restaurant Review – Salvation Jane, Oliver’s Yard, EC1Y

My lovely friend, Lucy, is returning to her homeland of New Zealand. I am Very Sad about this, for selfish reasons revolving around the fact that I like her and don’t want to not be able to see her on a bi-weekly basis.

The upside of her getting ready to leave is that she’s finished work and is footloose and fancy free, so she has been meeting me for lunch. We have made Salvation Jane our lunchtime hangout. It’s very close to my work and serves lovely food. That’s pretty much our criteria met!

SJ, as none of the cool kids are calling it, is the little sister of the brilliant Aussie cafe, Lantana. It was set up by an Aussie and very much celebrates the Aussie love of decent brunches and amazing coffee, as well as a friendly, informal atmosphere.

The lunch menu at Salvation Jane is quite brunchy, with antipodean-style corn fritters stacked with streaky bacon, fresh spinach and slow roast tomatoes served with a avocado chilli lime salsa and crème fraiche a sure-fire favourite.

Luce and I always go for their tart of the day with two side salads. They’re ever-changing and always bright, innovative and full of healthy flavour.

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This was some kind of pesto and tomato tart, I think. It came with a potato salad with lots of fresh greens mixed in, and a giant-cous cous salad with roasted root veg. It was as delicious as it looks.

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This tart is some foxy courgette number, served with a red cabbage salad and a butternut squash salad.

I’ve also had those pancakes, and they were a winner.

So not only now will I desperately miss Lucy when she goes home, but I will miss an excuse to pop to Salvation Jane for lunch every week. Luce: DON’T GO! Me ‘n’ the tarts need you!

Service: 2 (they always bring us something we didn’t order and then always add it to the bill!)

Venue: 4

Value: 4

Overall: 7.5/10

Unit 2, 1 Oliver’s Yard, 55 City Rd  EC1Y 1HQ

Nearest Tube: Old Street (30 second walk)

 

Salvation Jane on Urbanspoon

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Food Review – Glazed & Confused doughnuts

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Clockwise from pink doughnut: raspberry and chocolate, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate, lemon drizzle, lemon curd, rhubarb

We’re on deadline at work at the moment. It’s a pretty stressful time in the office when the quarterly magazine I co-edit starts going through the final stages. There’s a lot of diplomacy, patience and accuracy needed. What’s also needed is a heady sugar hit, and yesterday my office was treated to doughnuts from Glazed & Confused.

They absolutely hit the spot. I went for a cheeky raspberry and chocolate number. I was assured by the nice G&C people that there are no artificial colourings in the glazes – just lots of fruit to give it it’s gem-like pink hue.

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It was delicious, and not too sweet. The doughnut was quite cake like, but the glazed complimented it perfectly. It was a ring doughnut though, and I prefer filled doughnuts, so um, I shared another doughnut with a sub-editor here. Ooops.

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We shared a lemon curd doughnut, which was bloody marvellous. Really nice sharp, citrusy tang from the generous curd filling. image (1)

All the doughnuts received good reviews from our office and were gobbled up with enthusiasm.

Glazed & Confused supply doughnuts for events, and various cafes and restaurants around the capital. You can tweet them at @GlazedLondon for more info.

Glazed & Confused sent me complimentary doughnuts, but free baked goods by no means guarantees a favourable review! 

 

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Crafty How To – Make a Bath Tea Bag

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Every year I make the ladies in my life something homemade for Christmas. This has seen me making caramel-filled truffles, a world of chutney and industrial amounts (well, not quite!) of sugar body butter scrub.

Nearly every time I take on my Christmas project I have an near-on emotional break down, get fed up half way through and wish I hadn’t started the project. But it’s always worth it when my friends and family open their homemade gifts and – at least to my face – seem to truly love them.

This year I decided to make bath tea bags. These are like tea bags, but you put them in the bath and they infuse the water with lovely scents and some goodness too. All the recipients had to do was run a bath, chuck one in and then relax in their own little spa.

I got a recipe from a website and then sort of made it up. I knew I wanted them to be lavender-based, mostly because I find it headily relaxing and hoped they would too. And I also wanted them to be nourishing and help muscles relax, so they did some good instead of just smelling fancy.

This resulted in me putting in rolled porridge oats and Epsom salts. The oats make the water soft and moisturise the skin while Epsom salts are great for aching muscles as they draw toxins from the body.

This is what I ended up putting in, in full:

4 parts dried lavender

1 part dried hibscus (I would leave this out if doing it again, as I don’t think it added much)

2 parts rolled oats

2 parts epsom salts

1 part lavender essential oil

I bought sealable tea bags from Soap Posh, where you can also get a range of dried flowers and Epsom salts.

How to:

1. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Fill bags about half to 3/4 full.

3. Iron the bags shut, if you’re using the kind I did. Otherwise you can sew them shut or you can get draw string ones too, which is pretty self-explanatory.

4. Parcel up and gift to those you love.

I popped about 3 tea bags into lovely paper bags, which I bought from a seller on Not on the High Street, but you can pack them up however you want. I also included a list in each paper bag of what was in the tea bags and how to use.

So far the feedback I’ve had is good on the teabags, but no one is going to be rude are they?! However, I have used them myself as I made more than I needed and they are really lovely. I like squishing them in the water so all the oaty moisturising goodness some out.

Oh, and if you squeeze them out then leave them to dry then you can use them two or three times more.

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Restaurant Review – Pizza East, Shoreditch High Street, E1

Pizza East has been kicking around for a while, so I am not really sure why it’s only now I’ve paid it a visit. Whatever the reason, I’m glad I got myself down there eventually as I really enjoyed my food there.

Pizza East is mostly a pizza place that does a few other dishes. They are focused around rustic simplicity and sourcing good ingredients… but who isn’t these days? I know that’s my life’s manifesto. So far I am very simple and fairly rustic…

Corporate doublespeak aside, Pizza East is a decent, reasonably priced restaurant chain with branches in Shoreditch, Kentish Town and Portobello. I visited the Shoreditch High Street one.

We were greeted – and I use that word lightly – but hipster hosts who kind of ignored us/served us/chatted among themselves while they allocated tables. Most of the tables in the place were empty, but they still insisted on sitting everyone at the huge communal tables. Fascinating policy. Whatever though, I don’t care very much apart from the fact Andrew’s elbow was lodged in my rib for much of the night as we were so tightly packed.

I’ll move on from the service in just a sec, but first let me tell you a thing that happened…

Waitress: Do you want to order some drinks?

Andrew: Oh, we’re actually just waiting for our friend who… [he was going to say, “is just hanging up his coat”]

Waitress: I CAN SEE THAT! What do you want to drink?

[We all order our drinks, feeling told off but also trying not to giggle at being told off]

Anyway, on with the food…

We got some starter bits to share, which were San Daniele and puzzone croquettes; burrata, fig and honeycomb bruschetta; fritto misto and a platter of speck ham.

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The bruschetta was totally delicious – sweet and light and creamy. I totally love a fig and cheese combo anyway, but this was simply dreamy.

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“There’s no way to make those look good, Zoe, I don’t know why you’re bothering!” said one of my dining companions. He was right. Anyway, these were really tasty too – full of rich béchamel sauce that oozed out studded with ham. Definitely could only manage a few at best.

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Who doesn’t love cured ham? Crazy folk. This was wafer thin and salty-ly good.

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That looks like a massive slice of lemon, doesn’t it? Anyway, the fritto misto was probably my favourite starter. It was light and delicious, with a good range of seafood from prawns to squid and whitebait. The tartare was a let down as it was really mayonnaise – totally not enough capers it in.

For main course, feeling stuffed, I plumped for the most rich dish I could find: veal meatballs, prosciutto and cream pizza. Andrew went for a prosciutto cotto, tomato, mozzarella and artichoke pizza, so we went halvies on each and created this beast:

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God, it’s like Frankenstein’s monster. Anyway, it was delicious. The veal meatball pizza was INCREDIBLY rich but absolutely delicious – really meaty. However, it had truck loads of oil oozing from the meatballs which made it slightly too… well, oily.

Andrew’s side was much lighter – and between you and I, a much more sensible option given that we’d eaten starters – and had truck loads of delicious ham on it.

The service left a lot to be desired at Pizza East, but the food was good. I would go back, if not in a tearing hurry.

Service: 0

Venue: 3

Value: 4

Overall: 6/10

56 Shoreditch High St, London, E1 6JJ

Nearest Tube: Old Street (10 min walk) – Shoreditch High St overground is right next door, though.

Pizza East on Urbanspoon

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Late 2013 Round-Up

I owe you an apology. Yeah, you. I know you’ve been anxiously refreshing The Z Factor, hoping for a new post. And I’ve let you down. I’ve also let myself down. The run up to Christmas and then Christmas itself was really busy, and I neglected write blog posts in favour of alcohol, cheese and friends. But now I am back to share the spoils of my fun and also to wish you a very happy new year.

Here’s what I got up to while AWOL…

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I was Christmas shopping and then wrapping presents. I had to do it mega early this year as I wasn’t seeing my family. They were off to LA and I was off to Andrew’s folks’, so we exchanged presents in early December. These are some of my gifts to my lovely family…

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Then my family came to visit. This is my niece trying to get Andrew to concede a game of “Sleeping Lions”. Little does she know that Andrew is very competitive, even against five-year-old little girls.

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Mid-December marked the nuptials of some of Andrew and mine’s nearest and dearest friends. It was a brilliant wedding and the perfect way to kick off the festive season.

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This is Andrew and a couple of his besties at  said wedding.

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These are some of life’s good guys, right here.

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Then is was Christmas, which meant it was high time…

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To make our flat cosy.

We…

image (7)Bought cheese (brie with truffle in it – phwoar!)

image (8)Were cheesy…

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image (10)Hand terrible hang overs…

image (11)Then did it all again…

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Eventually we retreated home.

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And saw Andrew’s family. We played board games and ate aforementioned cheese (did I mention the truffle?).

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We saw our home friends and ate a huge burger at The Flying Pig.

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Went to the soft launch of House of Ho. (OK food, terrible service)

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We kicked off the new year with another hangover.

image (16)But now it’s time to rest, relax and embrace 2014.

Looking forward to the year ahead very much – hope you guys are too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Restaurant Review – Jackson & Rye, Wardour Street, W1D

Last night I headed off to the soft launch, or even pre-soft launch, at Jackson & Rye, a new bar/restaurant in the middle of Soho. With the influence of the owner of Grillshack, Jackson & Rye is a New York-style venue with a 1920s flavour.

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It was very much still in its training stages last night. However, if last night was anything to go by (and I hope it was) and they manage to maintain the excellent standards on display when they open fully, Jackson & Rye will be a contender for my favourite Soho haunt.

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The menu is very reasonable for the quality of the food, and is obviously focused around modern American cuisine. Think fried chicken, whipped potatoes, steak, chowder. All that good stuff. They also have an extensive selection of rye to drink, with bourbon cocktails being their forte. One of my dining companions claimed they mixed the best Old Fashioned they’d ever had (and between me and you, they’ve had their fair share).

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I went for a prime fillet steak, which was served with fries and a béarnaise sauce. I asked for the steak medium rare, which was cooked perfectly for me – pink juices a go-go. The steak was however a little chewy, which I found a bit of a shame. The sauce on the other hand was perfect – rich with a sharp tang, perfectly wobbly. And praise where praise is due: the fries were as good as any I have tasted.

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Also on our table was a fillet of seabass, which was soft and perfectly cooked, with a gentle fishy flavour and was served with a caper sauce. A much lighter choice!

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The HUGE rosemary and lemon chicken was sublime, and was juicy and incredibly flavoursome. However, it came with shoestring fries that were ever-so slightly undercooked and chewy.

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Lastly, the buttermilk fried chicken had our table in raptures. The batter was light, fluffy and crispy and the chicken wonderfully juicy. The portion was generous too, with two large pieces of breast served up.

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Although feeling stuffed, we moved on to dessert. I chose a melting chocolate sundae. I think it was probably the best pudding I’ve had in my life. Served solid, when warm caramel is poured over a decadent dark chocolate dome, the chocolate melts revealing fluffy, rich ice cream underneath. The caramel then half-sets, creating kind of delicious dime bar-style nuggets in the ice cream. Oh my God, I want to eat it all over again.

We also ordered a frozen souffle, which was fruity and light but didn’t really going anywhere and wasn’t varied in texture or flavour. If it had some fruit or sauce with it, it would have made the dish much more well-rounded.

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The blueberry and apple cobbler was great – the apples had been perfectly cooked so they held together and gave a lovely munchable texture, while the blueberry flavour came through strongly. I normally find blueberries a bit insipid, so I was pleasantly surprised. However, the pudding was brought down slightly by the custard that was the consistency of whole milk, meaning it all sort of disappeared as soon as it was poured over.

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Rounding off the puddings was a pecan pie – which was just as it should be. I don’t know if it was anything spectacular, but it was fine.

The selection of Ryes at Jackson & Rye
The selection of Ryes at Jackson & Rye

As I said, Jackson & Rye was in the training stage, so it will hopefully work on these very minor issues and bring everything up to match the spectacular level of the buttermilk chicken, Old Fashioneds and chocolate sundae. I will definitely be back again. The atmosphere was delightful and buzzy, the staff friendly and eager to help and the food varied and fun.

Service: 5

Venue: 5

Value: 4

Overall: 9/10

Jackson & Rye, 56 Wardour Street,  W1D 4JD

Nearest Tube: Piccadilly Square (5 min walk)

Jackson & Rye opens fully on December 11th.

Jackson & Rye on Urbanspoon

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Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice's best nights out in London.

My London… with Alice Judge-Talbot

I’ve known Alice for quite a number of years through the wonderful world of blogging. She’s an all-round superwoman and lady of excellent taste. Here she shares with me a few of her London things…

Name: Alice
Job: Blogger and Marketing Consultant
Neighbourhood: I moved out of London when I had kids and now live in Buckinghamshire (boohooh). But in my time in the fair city I lived in Kentish Town, Shoreditch, De Beauvoir and Muswell Hill.

Alice with her ridiculously cute son, Hux
Alice with her ridiculously cute son, Hux

I love London because… of the diversity! There aren’t many places where you can experience such a rich mix of cultures and languages. You always meet someone with a story to tell.

London is at its best when… Frosty and twinkly or sunshiney and happy. Both as lovely as each other.

Borough Market would kick of Alice's perfect day.
Borough Market would kick of Alice’s perfect day.

My ideal day off in London would be… starting at Borough Market I’d walk along the Thames to Embankment, stopping off at The Savoy for a cup of tea. I’d get the tube up to Camden to visit some of my old haunts before powerwalking up Parliament Hill to marvel at the amazing view. I’d finish the day with prosecco at The Dean Street Townhouse or maybe Shoreditch House, followed by espresso martinis. And karaoke.

 I absolutely love this little-known place… the sushi cafe above the Japanese shop at Centrepoint. In my opinion it’s the most authentic (and tastiest!) sushi in London.

Gordon's Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice's best nights out in London.
Gordon’s Wine Bar on Embankment has played host to one of Alice’s best nights out in London.

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… too many to count! I was recently introduced to Gordon’s Wine Bar – the oldest in London – and had a very raucous night in there with a very fun friend.

My favourite restaurant is... what a difficult question! I seem to eat at The Dean Street Townhouse a lot these days (love their chips and salad) but you really can’t beat the shortrib nuggets at Hawksmoor. Also, the Street Feast/Mr Hyde burger festival in Dalston earlier this year was bloody brilliant

 If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in...Cos, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie. Harrod’s Beauty Hall. I can’t decide!

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

 My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is absolutely breathtaking. I saw To Kill A Mockingbird there in May and despite the freezing rain it was a wonderful experience.

 One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived there is… How accessible everything is on foot! I try not to use the tube or buses if I can walk, it’s a much better way of travelling.

 London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… SLOW WALKERS!

I’ll leave London when… I will never move further than 30 minutes outside of London. It always leaves me feeling energized and happy.

Your can head to Alice’s blog, morethantoast.org, and find her on Twitter.

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Pub Review – Ape & Bird, Shaftesbury Avenue, WC2H

Ape & Bird opened last week to much fan fare. In a huge old Victorian pub in Covent Garden, the team behind Polpo, Mishkins and Spuntino have brought something to the area that was desperately needed: a decent, large pub. Soho and Covent Garden aren’t exactly famous for their decent pubs with great customer service. It’s more of a “drink on the pavement, try not to get run over and fight your way to the bar” type vibe in the rest of the area. Ape & Bird is an oasis of calm in comparison.

Last night I went along with two of my favourite people to see whether the place lived up to the hype. On entering the pub, it was totally empty. “Err, hello?” I said to the three front of house staff who were eagerly waiting to greet people. The place was dead, but it was 5.45pm on a Monday evening. I was swiftly taken through the main pub/more formal dining room to a back “public bar”.

The lighting was soft, the decor was tasteful and the wine was expensive. They only had three red and three whites on in the bar out of a longer list, which was a slight shame. Later in the night the beers also dwindled as we were told our choice beer was “off” now. Teething problems, I am sure, as the pub is only just out of its soft launch phase.

We decided to have food, so were ushered into the main pub bit, which was adorned by fairy lights, candle lights and gentle music. We decided it was a perfect date venue, and, being terribly boring, the music wasn’t too loud so we were able to hear each other. There’s nothing worse than having to nod along to someone’s story but not really getting a word of it.

An extremely under-lit menu
An extremely under-lit menu

The menu is modern British cuisine: chestnut and mushroom shepherd’s pie, steak and chips, trout with shrimp and tarragon butter. I went for a cheeseburger with a side of cheese and truffle fries. Andrew also got a burger but with rosemary and salt potato skins, and Amy got the veggie shepherd’s pie.

The portions were modest, but on reflection I think this is because I have become used to places overloading the plates. I admit these photos aren’t great but this is 65% because of the “date lighting” there and only 35% because I am terrible at taking photos.

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The burger was really decent – plenty of sauce, nice and meaty and a good ratio of sharp pickles. The fries were really rich, but provided an excellent salt and fat hit. Andrew’s potato skins were crunchy and deliciously herby, but I think the fries were best.

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The service at Ape & Bird was a bit hit and miss, and slightly on the cold side from some staff members, but for this you have to be forgiving in the opening days of the place. Despite this, Ape & Bird is a warm and relaxed venue, and with many other bars within the venue (including an amazing-looking subterranean cocktail bar), I am already planning my next visit.

The bill came to about £60 for three, with service and drinks.

Service: 3

Venue: 4.5

Value: 3

Overall: 7.5/10

Ape & Bird Public House, 142 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8HJ

Nearest Tube: Leicester Square (5 min walk)

The Ape & Bird Pub on Urbanspoon

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A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room

Restaurant Review – Smokehouse, Canonbury Road, N1

Before we moved, Andrew and I promised ourselves we’d go out for a really lovely celebration meal together once we completed on the sale. However, as ever with us, we were optimistic about how much free time we’d have after completing.

Since we became homeowners our lives have been a heady whirlwind of filling walls, buying sanders (I am now the co-owner of multiple sanders! Try not to feel too jealous, guyssss), painting and shouting, “Have you seen my red jumper anywhere?” across the house as we live in a semi-unpacked dystopian nightmare. So we haven’t had time to go for dinner, and we hadn’t unpacked any nice clothes to go out for dinner in. I’m pretty sure any maître d’ would turn his nose up at my paint-covered hoodie. I mean, I turn my nose up at it and I’m a slob.

But the clouds lifted on Saturday. We finished our decorating, I found my nice shoes (one pair, natch) – it was time for our celebration meal. We wanted to go somewhere local, that wasn’t stuffy but served good quality and interesting food. There’s quite a lot of that on offer in Islington, but eventually we plumped for the Smokehouse.

Our 'excited to be out and not painting' faces. Andrew's playing it cool, as ever.
Our ‘excited to be out and not painting’ faces. Andrew’s playing it cool, as ever.

Smokehouse is owned by the guys behind The Pig & Butcher and has Neil Rankin, of John Salt and Pitt Cue fame, as the chef. Smokehouse specialises in all things smokey and firey and has a smoker on site. As well as this, the emphasis is on the quality and provenance of their ingredients. As well as the best possible produce, Smokehouse also has a startling array of ales and beers and a stellar wine list, for it is a cosy pub as well and not at all ‘just a restaurant’.

A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room
A shot of the pass, open to the formal dining room

We got a great table in the restaurant (needed to book ahead), and had an amazing waitress who was just the right level of attentive. She was battling on even though she’d sliced open her hand on a bread knife too. That’s the commitment I like! She was also really knowledgable about the menu and seemed to be passionate about the food she was delivering to us. Full marks to her!

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I opted for a starter of foie gras, apple pie and duck egg. It was so delicious I stopped on my first mouthful and sighed! The foie gras was lovely and rich, with the duck egg perfectly cooked (so much so I asked Andrew in a frustrated tone, “but how do they get it this perfect?” – side note, I am rubbish at cooking eggs). The apple pie was perfect for cutting through the richness and adding a lovely tang to the plate.

Foie gras (two generous pieces!), apple cake and duck egg starter
Foie gras (two generous pieces!), apple cake and duck egg starter

Andrew went for a chopped brisket roll & gochujang. Gochujang is a Korean condiment that’s essentially like a chilli mayo. The chopped brisket was perfect: smokey and headily meaty, while the gochujang added a beautiful chilli kick.

The chopped brisket
The chopped brisket

We followed these up with a shortrib bourguignon (me) and peppered ox cheek (him). We also got a side of roast potatoes, but the stew came with mash anyway.

Short rib bourguignon with creamy mash
Short rib bourguignon with creamy mash

The bourguignon had a real depth of flavour and a melt in mouth texture. It had some chillies on the plate, which added a lovely firey hum in the undertones. It was incredibly rich and decadent, and absolutely superb.

The ox cheek came with cauliflower cheese, which was just insane. The cauliflower, which is an easy vegetable to overcook and ruin, was so sweet and nutty, and the cheese sauce covered the cauliflower but didn’t overpower it.

Peppered ox cheek with cauliflower cheese and gravy
Peppered ox cheek with cauliflower cheese and gravy

Feeling rather full of rich meaty food, we weren’t to be beaten by pudding. I went for a Double D pie, which is inspired by a Double Decker chocolate bar. A layer of coco pops, a layer of nougat, a layer of peanut butter, a layer of the richest chocolate known to man. Kapow! It was amazingly nutty and chocolatey. The pistachio ice cream it came with wasn’t quite powerful enough to beat those flavours. Bums, as I love pistachio ice cream – it’s a firm family favourite in my crew.

The Double D
The Double D

Andrew asked for an affagato, which wasn’t actually on the menu, but they knocked it up for him.

And breathe!
And breathe!

Smokehouse was everything I hoped it’d be: cosy, without pretension and serving excellent, exciting food. It’s the ideal place to snuggle down in, eat until you’re full to bursting and then relax in front of the open fire. A new favourite for me!

Sorry this photography is a bit Martha Stewart!

Service: 5

Venue: 5

Value: 5

Overall: 10/10

The Smokehouse, 63-69 Canonbury Road, N1 2DG

Nearest Tube: Highbury & Islington (10 min walk). The 271 goes right past it though!

Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

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Restaurant Review – Joe Allen, Exeter Street, WC2E

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This week was Thanksgiving in America. In the UK, this tends to mean that everyone turns to each other and says, “What is Thanksgiving anyway? Is it just a dinner?” I don’t think any conversations I had drew any conclusions further than: dinner, watch football (not the UK version, obvz), don’t work. Apart from the football aspect, I’m on board.

Now, more about that dinner… On Thursday I headed to Joe Allen in Covent Garden to have a Thanksgiving feast with some other delightful food bloggers.

Joe Allen is an American bistro deep in the heart of London’s theatreland. Having opened in 1977, Joe Allen has recently come under new management and has benefitted from some subtle and sensitive tweaks that breathe new life into the London institution.

Delightfully tucked away down a side street, not much marks out Joe Allen from the road. It’s like a private members club for Americans. And the Americans in London had made a pilgrimage to the place to enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner away from home.

The place was bustling, to put it lightly, but had a wonderful buzz about it. It certainly felt like the place had history and soul to it, and I thought it’d be the ideal location for a big, hearty and jovial group dinner.

Speaking of dinner, I went for a starter of roasted vegetables with creamed goats cheese and truffle. It was my ideal starter for a large meal – fresh, light but still packed with lots of different and complementary flavours. The earthy beetroot was delicious with the sharp, salty goats cheese.

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I then went crazy and didn’t order turkey for my main course. Why? Cos I hate turkey. Judge me all you want, but we all know turkey is a paltry (GEDDIT?!) version of chicken. Anyway, I went for honey roast ham, which came with plenty of fresh veggies. It was perfectly cooked, lovely and rich with a salty and sweet flavour. I love me some roasted ham.

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I finished up with a traditional Thanksgiving dish that I’d never tried: pumpkin pie. As my first pumpkin pie, I obviously have no reference point from which to compare it, but it was tasty – full of warming winter spices but yet sweet.

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Joe Allen’s regular a la carte features ribs, wings and all that good American stuff. However, it’s classier and more refined – and dare I say it, slightly more traditional and old school – than Bodeans, The Big Easy etc. This place is more white table cloths and strong Old Fashioneds than plastic bibs and wet wipes.

I would definitely go back again, if nothing else than to try their famous off-menu burger. There has been much hype about it! And also their cocktails are wonderfully sophisticated and pack quite the punch. It’d be a great place for dates too – sipping cocktails, listening to the pianist do his stuff (I’m a sucker for live piano music)…

Service: 5

Venue: 4

Value: 3

Overall: 8/10

Joe Allen, 13 Exeter Street, WC2E 7DT

Nearest Tube: Covent Garden (7 min walk), Charing Cross (7 min walk)

Joe Allen on Urbanspoon

I was invited to review Joe Allen, and given a complimentary meal. However, this in no way means I offered them a favourable review in return.

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Restaurant Review – Flesh & Buns, Earlham Street, WC2H


I often find myself searching for places to eat in Covent Garden. This is because it is the most convenient place for me and my closest group of friends from school to meet up. We essentially have a semi-regular non-booking at Wahaca, but even I, life-long crazed Mexican food fan, can grow tired of their “healthy pork scratchings” (that’s a lie, and it hurts me even to type it; I will never stop loving you, my porky pals).

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Erm, anyway, for a change we decided to head to Flesh & Buns, which is a subterranean restaurant a hop, skip and jump away from Seven Dials. Set up by the Bone Daddies crew, Flesh & Buns is a Izakaya -style joint (that, between you and I, is a Japanese eating and drinking establishment – a pub, I like to call them but this is probably quite far from what a Izakaya is, but I don’t know – never been to Japan, innit).

Inside, there are loooong high tables, and more exclusive-looking booths. I was on the high table with the rabble, obvz. It’s worth noting that I walked in at about 7pm and got a table no problem. It was probably mid-week, so hardly crazy-town busy time but still, not to be glossed over.

F&B, as no one is calling it, serves “raw” food – mainly sushi and sashmi – which we skipped over because I was dining with my pregnant pal, Is, or MEAT. We went straight for the meat and ordered some flesh and buns.

Basically, it’s like you construct your own sandwich – they bring the meat and veg, along with some steamed buns and you whack it all in a steamed bun and enjoy. I got Flat Iron Steak with BBQ sauce, and Is got crispy duck leg with sour plum sauce. I asked for my steak medium-rare, and it came on the edge of medium. I prefer to err on the rare side, but Is said she thought it was slightly too rare. Prone to agree.

Flat iron steak - super juicy!
Flat iron steak – super juicy!

Annoyingly, the steak was suuuper chewy and therefore not conducive to being put in a sandwich to take bites out of. One bite and the whole steak slice came out and you were left with an empty bun (and a full, unattractive gob – Isabel felt realllly happy to be seen out with me, I am sure).

Crispy duck leg at Flesh & Buns
Crispy duck leg at Flesh & Buns

The duck, however, was a dream. It brought back lots of fond memories of duck pancakes at Chinese restaurants, as the taste was pretty much exactly that.

We had to order more buns because there was way more meat than there were buns – sneaky sneaky. But out of the two I suppose better to have more meat than bread. Rules to live by, right there.

After our bun feast, we went for a Bone Daddies Sundae, and I felt in love with green tea ice cream. I HATE green tea as a drink (reminds me of being ill in Vietnam, weirdly), so have avoided all its incarnations so far. Until that night, when I realised in ice cream form, me and green tea were actually alright.

Bone Daddies Sundae
Bone Daddies Sundae

The atmosphere was nice and buzzy, without being loud or irritating, and the service was allllright. Wouldn’t go higher than that though, as I had to ask about a billion times for the bill.

Service: 3

Venue: 3

Value: 3

Overall: 7/10

Flesh & Buns, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX

Nearest tube: Covent Garden (5 min walk), Leicester Square (8 min walk)

Flesh and Buns on Urbanspoon

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Theatre Review – 1984

A few weeks ago Andrew and I bundled our way to Richmond to see Headlong Theatre‘s production of the George Orwell dystopian classic, 1984.

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I love the theatre – hate musicals though. But I quite rarely go, or at least not as much as I feel I should for someone living in London. Something I always espouse about living in London is there’s so much going on. Yes, so I really should actually take advantage of it.

I’d never seen a Headlong production before, but had followed this tour fairly closely – they went to Liverpool, Cardiff, Nottingham… some other places… This is because my amazingly talented friend was on the production team. As the five star reviews from virtually every paper rolled in, we booked our tickets.

I wasn’t exactly sure how they’d make a show of 1984 – it is quite a tough book to replicate on stage, I think. I must admit I didn’t fully remember the entire story, as I read it in my early twenties (YEARS AGO!) and straight after read A Brave New World, so the stories have become slightly muddled together in my mind. But this production was so clever, and the story came flooding back to me like remembering a horrifying nightmare I once had.

There was a huge amount of media used to tell Winston Smith’s story of falling in love while questioning the leadership in a futuristic totalitarian state. I won’t spoil all the amazingness and surprises if you do go, but the set was ingenius and the performances were first class. It was both intellectually stimulating and quite traumatising in parts. There are quite a lot of flashing lights and high-pitched noises!

After so many amazing reviews and such highly heaped praise, 1984 is transferring to The Almeida Theatre in Islington, so you still have a chance to view it. It’s running for the most part of February and March.

If you prefer going to the theatre for a sing-song and aren’t interested in long monologues, this won’t be for you (get thee to ‘We Will Rock You’), but otherwise I highly recommend you go. Especially, if like me, you really feel you should take advantage more of all London has to offer…

Poppy rides the train to the big smoke

Dog Spot – Hastings to London Southeastern Service

Poppy rides the train to the big smoke
Poppy rides the train to the big smoke

So my Mum has now got in on the dog spot action too. She spotted this lovely long-haired dachshund while on the train to London to meet me. The dog is called Poppy and her owner, Jo, says Poppy is gorgeous but a little terror. I like a cheeky pup, so I’m a massive fan of Poppy’s… I just wish I’d met her myself.

Another shot of Poppy!
Another shot of Poppy!
coreandcardioblitzflyer

My Penance and a Giveaway – Islington Bootcamp Classes

So with all the eating I do, it’s time to get serious about burning off some of those calories (boo!).

I started doing Free Form Fitness‘ bootcamps about three years ago, when I lived in Highbury. Over the past year I haven’t been living there, so have fallen off the bandwagon somewhat. But that’s all about to change as we’ve just bought a flat back in Highbs, so there’s no more getting out of it… It’s time to hit the deck and pump some, err, iron?

Free Form Fitness owner, Sybille, talking a class through their next exercise
Free Form Fitness owner, Sybille, talking a class through their next exercise

When I started at bootcamps I was kind of nervous. I admit I feel a little intimidated by fitness classes (I won’t know anyone, everyone else will be better than me, I’ll be wearing the wrong thing…), but as soon as I got in touch with Free Form’s owner, Sybille, she immediately put me at my ease. She was knowledgable and encouraging, telling me more about an injury I had than even I knew, and started me off gently. As everyone in the classes are at different fitness levels – some are marathon runners, some are new mums trying to lose some baby weight, some are flabby food bloggers (OK, just me in that group) – Sybille has different levels of exercises to suit everyone.

Andrew ended up doing extreme press ups. I... did not graduate to this level.
Andrew ended up doing extreme press ups. I… did not graduate to this level.

The first session I went to was just the right level of hard. Then I woke up the next morning and couldn’t actually move. I have never experienced anything like that – my muscles were in shock. BUT in a good way – I was just using muscles I’d not used since I was a kid.

Classes weren’t something I looked forward to, but once I got there they were enjoyable and everyone in the class was really friendly. I’ve made friends at bootcamp that I still see now and count as very good friends indeed (hi Simon and George!). It’s a really nice community event, as everyone lives around Highbury Fields who comes to my class. A happy result was I toned up, lost weight and improved my posture without really – I wouldn’t say trying, because a lot of sweat went into it, but perhaps without really much thought. Sybille does the thinking, I just do what she very gently instructs!

This is my worst exercise - rotational press ups. Unfortunately they're amazing for core strength.
This is my worst exercise – rotational press ups. Unfortunately they’re amazing for core strength.

As I say, I’ve now moved away but am coming back! And just in time for a new class Sybille has devised called “Cardio and Core Blitz”. This is a 30 minutes high intensity workout, focusing on fat burning and core work.

Sybille says of the class, “By using a class format comprised of HIIT (high intensity interval training) and functional core work we have created a workout that will help increase the body’s ability to burn body fat without putting it through the strains and risk of overuse injuries associated with traditional boot camps or high impact cardio workouts. You will be working hard for 30 minutes but you will leave feeling super energised and de-stressed!”

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Sessions are £5/class or you can buy 11 for £50. The classes run in Highbury Fields at the moment, but will soon be running in Liverpool street, Green Park, London Fields and Tower Bridge in the mornings, at lunch times and in the evenings.

Free Form Fitness have teamed up with me and are offering Z Factor readers a free first session. All you need to do is email booking@freeformfitness.co.uk with the subject line “The Z Factor”.

Hope to see you all down there!

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Brunch Review – The Modern Pantry, St John’s Square, EC1V

The Modern Pantry is situated on a lovely square in Clerkenwell
The Modern Pantry is situated on a lovely square in Clerkenwell.

Andrew was getting stressed about his birthday (he doesn’t like his birthday), so I asked him what he really wanted to do. His response? He just wanted to go to brunch with me (n’awww). So I decided to go to a nice (but not fancy – we’re not fancy types) brunch. I did some research and whittled it down between Duck & Waffle and The Modern Pantry. After glancing at both menus, I picked The Modern Pantry (still want to go to D&W though) as it had more things on the menu I knew Andrew would like. He loves fusion food that are packed full of lots of flavours, and head chef, Anna’s menu certainly seemed to cover a lot of those bases.

The Modern Pantry Dining Room
The Modern Pantry Dining Room

So we trotted off with our hangovers (we’d completed on our flat the day before, so celebrated hard the night before!) to Clerkenwell. We ordered our drinks, which came with speed, and started analysing the menu.

This is what a hangover looks like.
This is what a hangover looks like.

There was loads to choose from, and Andrew started looking a bit panicky that he wanted everything.

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In the end we went for, ahem, three dishes to share.

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This is grilled cornbread, chorizo, a fried egg, charred sweetcorn, avocado and red pepper salsa. It was pretty dry, but the egg broke open to reveal a soft and silky yolk which helped the whole dish massively. There was a gentle hum to the dish, but it was really surprisingly light.

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We also ordered the sweetcorn, feta,green chilli & curry leaf waffles, smoked streaky bacon with maple syrup, which sounds INSANE, and it was – but in an amazing way! It was so packed full of different flavours and everything was balanced perfectly, so in a bit you’d get fluffy waffle, sharp cheese and then sweet maple syrup, plus a faint after taste of curry – it was extraordinary but an absolute triumph. Anna is obviously a master at flavour combinations.

The last thing we ordered takes 20 mins to cook, so it was perfect timing for us to take a break and compare hungover notes (results: we were both hungover).

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Then it arrived: raspberry and ricotta pancakes with berry and liquorice compote, crème fraiche. Oh sweet lord. The pancakes were fluffy and light and the compote cut beautiful through the creme fraiche and rich pancakes. They were extremely filling, so I started to feel quite sick by this point, but boy was it worth it.

The Modern Pantry is something a little bit special. There were lots of people in there celebrating stuff (a groom’s party who were suited and booted, drinking champagne pre-ceremony, a couple who had just got engaged and were celebrating with their excited friends), so it created this lovely atmosphere, yet it was relaxed and informal, with perfect service.

Andrew claimed it to be the best brunch he’d ever had, so it was a birthday winner!

Service: 5

Venue: 5

Value: 4

Overall: 9/10

The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St Johns Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 4JJ

Nearest tube: Farringdon (10 min walk)

Modern Pantry on Urbanspoon

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Apothic Red

Wine Review – Apothic Red

Winter is approaching at an alarming rate. Britain has just had an almighty storm. The clocks have gone back, meaning I leave work when it’s already dark. I can’t be the only one craving cosiness, comfort food and a nice warming glass of something. Add to that, that it’s Halloween tomorrow and I think I’ve found the perfect wine accompaniment: Apothic Red.

Apothic Red
Apothic Red

Apothic Red is a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvigon, which produces a really full body flavour. It tastes exactly how you’d expect from looking at the bottle – it’s like a gothic red wine, with plenty of different, rich flavours. It’s totally perfect for snuggling down with on Halloween while you’re watching your favourite scary movie (mine is Psycho, FYI). Just try not to jump at the scary bits and chuck your red wine everywhere!

It’s not a wine that will now be my go-to wine (I still love you, Argentinian Malbec), but it made a really nice change and was dangerously drinkable.

Apothic Red was sent to me to review, but this by no means I have offered them a favourable review in return.

Juliet loves walking across the river at dusk. It's rather beautiful!

My London… with Juliet Mushens

Juliet Mushens – literary agent, Twitter agent and leopard print fan – shares her London with us!

Name: Juliet

Job: Literary agent

Neighbourhood: Kentish Town

 JulietMushens

I love London because… I am never more than 20 feet away from a fast food joint at all times.

 

London is at its best when… you’re walking across the river at dusk. The sky seems to stretch out forever, and you get a real sense of how small you are, and how big and old London is.

 

Juliet loves walking across the river at dusk. It's rather beautiful!
Juliet loves walking across the river at dusk. It’s rather beautiful!

My ideal day off in London would be… breakfast at the Breakfast Club, a walk along the Southbank, ice cream at Fortnum & Mason, antique-perusing in Camden Passage, browsing Penhaligon’s, a manicure at Cowshed, a trip around the Tower of London or London Zoo, drinks at Nightjar, karaoke at Karaoke Box Soho, dancing at London Swingcats to burn off the huevos rancheros and ice-cream sundae, then chicken at Chicken Cottage to undo all the good work the dancing did.

Camden Passage in Angel. A particular favourite of mine, too!
Camden Passage in Angel. A particular favourite of mine, too!
It calls like a siren to drunken people all over London: Cottage Chicken offers drinkers a warm, greasy embrace.
It calls like a siren to drunken people all over London: Cottage Chicken offers drinkers a warm, greasy embrace.

I absolutely love this little-known place… the Elk in the Woods in Islington. It does amazing food and is very inexpensive (a fiver for dippy duck egg and toast. Yum.). Or – though everyone in publishing goes here – Honey & Co on Warren Street, which does Middle Eastern food. It’s tiny and a bit of a squeeze but the food is incredible – the lamb makes me come over all Rachel Zoe (‘I dieeee!’). Also, the Gilbert Scott bar at the St Pancras Renaissance is glorious. Cocktails are ever-changing and range from old-fashioned staples to new favourites, priced at between £7 and £10. It has high ceilings, bells, and very friendly staff.

 

The Gilbert Scott bar in St Pancras
The Gilbert Scott bar in St Pancras

The best night I’ve ever had in London was… the night I went to the Game of Thrones DVD launch. It was in the Old Vic tunnels, which had been styled as Westeros. There were actors re-enacting key moments from the show, the staff weren’t allowed to break character all night, I stood in the WINTERFELL CRYPT and got my photo taken on the Iron Throne. The attention to detail was incredible, and the cast were all there. When I left and walked out into Waterloo it literally felt like I’d left another world. This, to be honest, says more about my love of George RR Martin than it does about London… But I’ve also had brilliant nights swingdancing in London Bridge, listening to music at Ronnie Scott’s, eating at Searcys at St Pancras/pretending I’m in Brief Encounter, and doing impossible pub quizzes in North London.

My favourite restaurant is… Great Queen Street. The menu changes every day, is always intensely carnivorous, and the waiting staff are so knowledgeable. The cocktails downstairs are really good too, and the barman plays a great mix of swing and 80s pop.

If I had £2000 to blow, I’d spend it all in… Fortnum & Mason. £2,000 would probably get me one teacup, mind. I always marvel at the people walking around with trolleys, casually buying their food shop.

Fortnum & Mason
Fortnum & Mason

My favourite museum/gallery/theatre is… I’m not particularly cultured, but the Old Operating Theatre Museum is grisly and morbid. Just how I like it. You can see where people used to be operated on without anaesthetic, and other horrible things like that. Plus, it’s quite tucked away so never overly touristy.

One thing I didn’t know about London until I lived here is… that you can always find something to do, no matter what day of the week it is.

London is great, but one thing that really annoys me is… people who don’t walk down inside the tube carriage. It makes me want to perform a citizen’s arrest/invest in a taser.

I’ll leave London when… I want to actually be able to afford to buy a property!

ROAD TRIP!

Our Cali Trip, 2013 – Route 1 Road Trip

When Andrew and I were visiting LA in the summer we decided to do a road trip up to San Francisco, driving all the way up the coast. It was amazing!

We hired a car and got a complimentary upgrade to a Ford Mustang Convertible.

Andrew with our hire car
Andrew with our hire car

We picked the car up from LAX (the airport in LA) and then drove through Malibu to Santa Barbara.

Stopping in Santa Barbara for lunch (actually our breakfast), I got some amaaaazing pancakes:

Chocolate chip and banana pancakes
Chocolate chip and banana pancakes

We were going all-out American on this road trip.

Driving up the coast was brilliant – we had some playlists going, we had spectacular views and got to spend lots of quality time together. N’awww.

Along Route 1, which is the coastal road in Cali, lies the Big Sur. The Big Sur is essentially an amazing piece of coastline whose beauty I could not do service to in words. It is absolutely stunning. Have some pictures instead:

ROAD TRIP!
ROAD TRIP!
Crap photo. I apologise.
Crap photo. I apologise.

 

Andrew loving our new ride.
Andrew loving our new ride.
Cheesy selfie!
Cheesy selfie!
A Big Sur beach
A Big Sur beach
A random piano on the Big Sur
A random piano on the Big Sur

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We stopped for a sunset meal on a restaurant on the cliffs on the Big Sur
We stopped for a sunset meal at a restaurant on the cliffs on the Big Sur
GoPro-ing the sunset
GoPro-ing the sunset

We stopped for a night in Carmel, but we were absolutely knackered so didn’t really get to explore that evening. However, we got up nice and early, had breakfast in our room and then went to the beach in Carmel.

The weather wasn’t great, but there were so many people out walking on the beach, and it was really peaceful.

As we were walking along the beach, a pod of dolphins were out for their morning swim. Hey guys!
As we were walking along the beach, a pod of dolphins were out for their morning swim. Hey guys!
I met a brilliant Rhodesian ridgeback on the beach. We made best friends. I spent about 20 mins playing with her in the surf. It was brilliant.
I met a brilliant Rhodesian ridgeback on the beach. We made best friends. I spent about 20 mins playing with her in the surf. It was brilliant. Andrew says he likes this photo cos it captures how crazy I am about dogs. Haha.
Paddlin' buds
Paddlin’ buds

After dragging ourselves away from Carmel, it was a relatively swift drive to San Francisco and the next leg of our trip…

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More on San Fran another time.

Photography © Andrew Phillimore

Scruffy little chap on the Northern Line

Dog Spot – Northern Line

This week has been especially grim as Andrew and I raced to exchange on the flat we’re buying. Wednesday night saw me particularly stressed, so I took myself off to the pub with some close friends to have some salving wine.

On my way home I happened across this scrappy lil’ lady. She was brilliant – just sitting contentedly on her owner’s lap. She looked so soft and snuggly I just wanted to bury my head in her fur (the dog that is, not the nice owner lady). Obviously due to social norms, I didn’t do this – I took this picture instead. Thanks for brightening my day, lovely pup!

Scruffy little chap on the Northern Line
Scruffy little chap on the Northern Line

 

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